RIYADH: Saudi Arabia aims to become a leader in the regional aviation sector within 10 years and to achieve this ambitious goal, it has introduced a series of measures aimed at ensuring an enabling environment for growth and sustainable investments.
The latest in a series of such measures is the introduction of a new aviation policy that redefines the role of the General Civil Aviation Authority, allowing it to focus more on improving the competitiveness of the aviation sector Saudi.
Commenting on the Saudi aviation strategy, a GACA spokesperson, Ibtisam Al-Shehri, told Arab News: “We are committed to achieving our objectives within the framework of the Saudi aviation strategy and ensuring that the aviation sector plays its role in the transformation of the Kingdom within the framework of Vision 2030.”
He said all stakeholders, especially GACA, were highly motivated to ensure the successful implementation of these reforms and “see the Saudi aviation sector lead the region by 2030.”
The International Air Transport Association also welcomed the aviation authority’s proactive approach to working with industry stakeholders to help shape and improve new aviation regulations.
At the annual general meeting of the Organization of Arab Air Carriers in Riyadh, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said: “(Air) traffic in the Middle East increased by 26.1 percent compared to the previous year. For freight, data shows the region is already up more than 2% from 2019 levels.”
The recently announced aviation strategy aims to attract $100 billion in investments by 2030. In a statement, GACA highlighted that these crucial reforms aim to strengthen competitiveness, improve transparency and realize the objectives set out in the Saudi aeronautical strategy.
He stressed that the policy framework should create new opportunities for investors and operators by leveling the playing field to stimulate increased competition.
The policy overhaul will encompass regulations governing airports, ground handling, air cargo and air transport services.
According to the GACA press briefing, airport regulations will cover issues related to ownership, revenue, service quality and investments.
The authority will reclassify airports into three main groups based on their size and capacity: large airports, which handle more than 10 million passengers or more than 125,000 tonnes of cargo; medium-sized airports, welcoming between 3 and 10 million passengers or handling 25,000 to 125,000 tonnes of freight; and small-scale airports, handling less than 3 million passengers or handling less than 25,000 tonnes of cargo.
The regulatory environment we are putting in place allows airlines to grow, innovate and provide the best possible service to passengers.
Ibtisam Al-ShehriGACA spokesperson
Freight refers to goods transported in large quantities from one location to another, often by various modes of transportation, including airplanes.
Additionally, GACA policy specifies who can own and control airports. Under the new plan, the Saudi government or public entities can own the airport land and facilities, but foreign investors can now also operate the airport without any restrictions.
Under the new plan, GACA will assume the role of a regulator who will only intervene when necessary. Decisions will be finalized in this regard after extensive consultation with airport user groups. The outlines of the new policies will take shape after careful consideration of the contributions of the various stakeholders.
Al-Shehri said: “We have consulted with airlines on our reforms to ensure that the regulatory environment we are putting in place allows airlines to grow, innovate and provide the best possible service to passengers. »
Land Services and Cargo
The new rules for ground services, including baggage handling, cargo and mail processing, aim to establish a competitive sector with improved productivity and quality of service, as well as regulation on prices and quality.
The GACA would also have taken steps to combat bad practices and eliminate any risk of manipulation while deciding which land and ancillary services should be economically regulated.
Reforms regarding stakeholders and service providers involve defining the roles and responsibilities of each party, reducing government involvement with investors, and streamlining interactions with clear areas of responsibility.
The new policy also introduces standards to ensure global service quality and commitments on key performance indicators, clarifies the role of the airport and describes feedback mechanisms for service providers and users.
GACA Chairman Abdulaziz Al-Duailej highlighted the alignment of these changes with global practices and their potential impact.
He said: “GACA’s transformation of Saudi aviation economic regulation will drive more investment, growth and performance across the entire aviation sector.
These changes will create more competition, choice and value for passengers and consumers.
Abdulaziz Al-Duailejpresident of GACA
“The regulations will enable the realization of the Saudi aviation strategy, which mobilizes $100 billion in investment from public and private sector sources by 2030. These changes will create more competition, choice and value for passengers and consumers.”
Air transport regulations have been streamlined to align with global best practices, according to GACA.
Reforms for national carriers include approval of airline marketing agreements, a process for granting international traffic rights on restricted routes, and criteria for approval and renewal of wet leases.
Wet leasing, defined by EU regulations, involves the operation of an aircraft under the lessor’s air carrier certificate.
Scheduled foreign carriers will benefit from simplified local office requirements and the removal of bonding requirements, while general purpose charters will no longer require economic approval for serial charters and will see the removal of security requirements. local offices and surety.
General aviation operators will benefit from greater flexibility with the removal of restrictions on “empty” flights, improving connectivity of the international flight network.
An empty leg flight occurs when a chartered aircraft, initially flown to a specific location without passengers, returns to its home base without any passengers booked.
Al-Shehri said: “All of these measures have the effect of optimizing costs for operators and investors while improving the transparency of commercial transactions and providing market participants with the flexibility to innovate.
She told Arab News: “Over the coming months, we want to highlight the sector’s contribution and importance to the Kingdom, celebrate key milestones in the sector’s progress as part of the Saudi aviation strategy, as well as celebrate the talents and people who are driving this transformation across the sector.
What’s in it for passengers?
The new airline policy aligns with GACA’s recently approved passenger protection guidelines, which are expected to come into effect on November 20.
The new rules will focus on assisting passengers in the event of delayed or canceled flights, reservation problems or changes in ticket class. Some refunds can reach up to 150-200% of the ticket price.
The guidelines also address the rights of passengers with special needs, while guaranteeing compensation of SR6,568 ($1,751) in case of lost baggage and up to SR6,568 in case of damaged baggage.
In this context, Al-Shehri told Arab News: “Improving the competitive environment will attract new investments and market players, thereby providing a wider range of choices for passengers and improving the quality of service offered in airports and airlines. »
“These new economic regulations follow GACA’s strengthening of passenger rights regulations earlier this year, which introduced the most comprehensive protections in the region,” she added.
Earlier this year, Saudi national airlines issued refunds totaling SR58 million to passengers during the 2021-2022 period. GACA clarified that these refunds mainly relate to issues such as baggage delays or loss, flight cancellations and delays.
Recently, Saudi Arabian Oil Co. successfully converted used cooking oil into certified sustainable aviation fuel through one of its joint ventures.
In a statement, Saudi Aramco Total Refining and Petrochemical Co. said it used the food product as a renewable feedstock in its low-pressure hydrodesulfurization unit, resulting in the production of certified sustainable aviation fuel.
SAF is a liquid fuel that reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80%, according to IATA.